Lithoz offers an industrial additive manufacturing process for both the single and series production of high-performance ceramics and bioresorbable materials.
Exhibiting at Ceramics UK on stand 1639, Isabel Potestio has been with Lithoz as a business developer since January 2017 and will be presenting the latest in Lithography Ceramic Manufacturing while also specifically discussing biomedical applications at the Ceramics UK conference.
1. What have been the biggest developments in ceramic additive manufacturing (AM) that you have seen during your time at Lithoz in the past two years?
For me, the shift from prototyping to serial production has been the biggest change in the last two years. Today, we see multiple machines being placed at customers and part production of more than 1000 pieces per month. When it comes to serial production, companies need machines and materials with high levels of quality and reproducibility, not just big promises. We have already supported many customers during their move into production. We are answering all their needs through our most recently developed CeraFab System, software and larger material portfolio.
2. What exactly is the CeraFab system? How does this support your customers?
The CeraFab System is Lithoz's answer to needs concerning the industrial series production of additively manufactured, high performance ceramics. The modular design of the CeraFab system allows for up to four production printers per electronic unit, increasing the output productivity while guaranteeing reliability of the process.
3. You specialised in Bioceramics during your MSc. What improvements or opportunities have you found since this time?
At the time, AM was already a technology used for the production of patient-specific implants made out of metals. Today, this has become a reality for ceramics as well and the success lies in the combination of the right application with the right technology. In 2017, 10 human surgeries in the maxillofacial field were performed utilizing bioceramic implants produced using Lithoz’s technology. This proves how fast the market is changing.
Part of your conference presentation will cover bone substitutes. Permanent bone implants are often made of titanium or cobalt chrome alloys. When do you think ceramic materials will become the material of choice?
Titanium and cobalt chrome alloys are a viable option for bone substitutes and implants, but technical and biological complications can occur due to unfavourable immune reactions to metal ions. Inert ceramics, such as alumina and zirconia, offer a metal-free solution and thus yield better tissue responses than metals for implants and large bone defects. They do not release their components into the human body nor generate foreign body response and thus the success rate is expected to be higher. When it comes to the regeneration of a bone defect, another innovative approach involves the use of bioresorbable ceramics such as TCP and HA. The latter material possesses the added characteristic of stimulating bone ingrowth and gradually degrading while being replaced by the natural bone tissue.
4. What role is Lithoz going to play in these developments?
Lithoz is the innovation and world market leader for AM ceramic technologies, and therefore we have the responsibility to develop the market. We are putting a lot of effort into growing awareness of ceramics and AM for medical implants. But, of course, we are also supporting our customers with their needs. We offer support along the entire process chain based upon their knowledge and applications and walk them through each step until the final product is ready for production.
5. It is challenging to find applications that employ AM in its entirety, what industry do you feel presents the next big potential for adopting AM applications?
On the one hand it is difficult for established companies to adopt new paths and methods, but then on the other hand young start-up companies can have disruptive ideas which can change the industry. Rather than focusing on trying to replace traditional subtractive methods, established companies should focus on using AM to change their designing, engineering and manufacturing processes. Using AM, companies can accelerate prototyping, explore new designs for improving product functionality and, ultimately, develop innovative applications. Along with the medical and dental industries, high-end markets such as the aerospace, energy and semiconductor fields have great potential for adopting AM applications. For instance, the most recent casting cores for the production of turbine blades used in aerospace and IGT are so complex that conventional ceramic injection moulding (CIM) technology cannot produce them in one piece. AM, however, is able to efficiently produce these complex designs.
6. The whole process chain for AM systems is covered at Lithoz, what benefits does this give your customers?
Ceramic AM is new for most companies, and they need a reliable partner that they can trust and who will answer their questions openly and honestly. When they first enter the market, they will naturally have different requirements and questions, our team is there to help whenever they need. We do not do their work for them, but we support them in achieving their goals more effectively and efficiently, allowing them to retain their independence. In the past we have seen that an open and reliable partnership is the best way to accelerate market success, and this is what we strive for.
7. What are you most looking forward to about the Ceramics UK 2019 show?
Ceramics UK 2019 is a really great opportunity to share inspiring ideas with other like-minded people, and also to discuss and find out more about new applications. It is an opportunity to introduce visitors to AM and to highlight the real potential of this technology.
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